If Britain Leaves The EU, What Happens To The 'Polish Plumber?' : Parallels About one million Poles live in Britain, but they won't be able to vote in the June 23 referendum that will decide if Britain stays in the EU.

If Britain Leaves The EU, What Happens To The 'Polish Plumber?'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/477685487/478114765" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The future of hundreds of thousands of Polish migrants could depend on whether Britain decides to leave the European Union. But they won't have a vote in next month's referendum. About 1 million Poles live and work in the U.K. among other EU citizens. They're allowed to do that because of free movement of workers in the EU. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from London.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: It's a typical construction site in a leafy suburb of London. A brick rowhouse is under renovation. There's a radio on for the builders.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Polish).

KRZYSTOF PRZADAK: Yeah, that's Polish radio, Polish Radio London.

FRAYER: Krzystof Przadak is a builder who's lived in England for 12 years.

PRZADAK: Poland was - became a member of the EU in the 2004 in the May. I was came in the September. Beginning was very difficult because I was came alone. Now I am owner of the company.

FRAYER: So many Poles have come to work in the U.K. since their country joined the European Union that Polish is now the second most widely spoken language here. Krzystof and compatriots earned much more in the U.K. than they ever did back home. But the sheer number of foreign workers has become an issue in itself, bolstering groups that want Britain out of the EU.

PRZADAK: They thinking we are talking their work. This is not the idea. We want to work for the same money what they working, all same rights. That is the idea of the whole EU.

FRAYER: He predicts the cost of construction will skyrocket if Poles are no longer allowed to work in the U.K. A recent Oxford University study shows a majority of EU citizens working here would not meet current visa requirements to stay if Britain were to leave the union. There's been a surge in Poles applying for U.K. passport before the June 23 vote.

Ognisko is an upscale Polish club in West London, where the Polish government convened in exile during World War II. George Byczynski is a legal scholar who's lived in London seven years. He's been lobbying for assurances that Poles and other EU citizens already here would be to stay.

GEORGE BYCZYNSKI: What we want is we want facts. We want statistics. We want real promises on paper. We are part of this economy, a very important part.

FRAYER: Last year, thousands of Polish workers downed their tools for a day to show their impact on the U.K. economy. In a symbolic gesture, many of them donated blood to Britain's health service instead.

Back at the discussion site, Krzystof, the builder, shrugs when I ask him if he's worried Britain might leave the EU.

PRZADAK: No. If I have to come back to Poland, we see what sort of benefits or what sort of step or the progress Poland has been made in just in the 12 years.

FRAYER: For these 12 years, Krzystof has been sending money home. Such remittances have helped Poland's economy grow. If he has to go back, he'd be returning to a country transformed by EU membership. And he'd be leaving one, too. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, London.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.